The Freezer is your Friend
A look at frozen food
Frozen foods are an American tradition. In the 1950s, frozen food was marketed as the hallmark of a new age. Mad men painted mental pictures of space age mealtimes made possible by the new freezers they were trying to sell. In the 1980s, frozen food companies started moving in on the diet trend by marketing ‘diet friendly’ frozen meals like Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice. And today, it doesn’t take much digging to find web communities dedicated to ‘freezer cooking,’ with recipes, tips and tricks for utilizing your freezer to feed your family.
So, let’s talk about frozen food. Is it healthy? Why should I do it? How do I do it?
Is frozen food healthy?
Contrary to what the marketers of frozen meals might wish, there exist some pretty negative stereotypes about frozen food. They are seen as a sad indication of bachelor life, a last resort of overworked moms or as a dieter’s un-enviable work lunch. A more useful way to think of the freezer is as a tool. Like any tool, it can be used well or poorly.
It’s important to know that freezing food does very little to change the nutritional content of food. Calorie, macronutrient and fiber content are largely unchanged. There may be some minor micro- and phyto-nutrient degradation but for the most part, freezing just puts your food into stasis. So, if something is sad and lifeless before it goes into the freezer, it will come out that way as well. You can find plenty of preservative laden, overly processed foods outside of the freezer as well as inside the freezer.
As far as micronutrient content goes, Harvard Medical School, talking mainly about the pros/ cons of frozen vegetables, says, “Frozen is a great, healthy alternative to fresh, especially if your fresh produce isn’t so fresh anymore, but if freshly picked produce is easy for you to come by, then it may be slightly higher in nutrients than its frozen counterparts.”
So, if freezing food is more or less a healthy practice, the question becomes…
Why do it?
Well the biggest and most obvious reason is convenience.
Sometimes life gets hectic. It would be great if we could take a leisurely stroll down to the farm stand every morning and pick out the freshest local produce for our daily meals. However, sometimes just making it to the supermarket once per week can feel like a monumental task. This is where frozen food can really shine.
Being able to pull a healthy meal out of the freezer can be a great alternative to eating out. Particularly if you made the food, you know what’s in it and what the macronutrient content is versus at a restaurant where the secret ingredient is probably butter.
Freezing food is also a great way to diversify your meal planning. When you’re following a specific calorie guideline for an extended period of time, one of the best ways to ensure success is to cook big batches of food to eat over the course of many days. While some people have no problem eating the same or similar foods day after day, it can be nice to change it up. By having some pre-portioned meals in the freezer, you can add variety to your weekly meal plan without needing to cook something new every day.
Along the same lines, freezing food is a great way to maximize the efficiency of the time you spend cooking. For many recipes, like chilli or meatballs, it’s almost just as easy to make an extra large quantity as it is to make a small quantity. So, by doubling a recipe, or picking a big batch recipe to begin with, you set your future self up for success.
How to do it
When you start to incorporate frozen food into your meal plan, it might be useful to change how you view the freezer. Instead of thinking of the freezer as a storage space for frozen food, try to think of it as one more tool you can use to accomplish your goals. This might seem like a very granular distinction, but this small reframing can help cement the idea that having a plan and utilizing every tool you have to execute that plan is the route to success. Here are some ways to utilize the freezer more effectively:
- Keep a running list of what you have in the freezer, so you will be able to incorporate your hard work into your weekly eating.
- When you are deciding what you’re going to cook for the week, plan to make extra portions for the freezer.
- Utilize semi-prepared frozen vegetables like cauliflower rice or charred corn for a quick accompaniment for a protein.
- Only freeze food that you will actually eat in the future. Don’t burden yourself with the guilt of needing to discard food in the future.
- In addition to whole meals, make and freeze components of meals like sauces or pre-cooked proteins. Just remember to be accurate when portioning and labeling.
- Make it a point to regularly clear out your freezer, even if you keep a list and use it regularly, stuff gets buried in there.
Some ways to make freezing food easier:
- Always Label!!! Blue painter’s tape and a sharpie are your best friend. It’s often easier to write on bags before you load them with food.
- Divide semi solid foods into individual portions and put into pre-labeled (including date and macronutrient breakdown) ziplock freezer bags. When freezing, lie them flat on a sheet pan so they can be stacked into the freezer.
- Freeze pre-cooked proteins individually and then put them into gallon sized bags.
- Full casseroles can be frozen in disposable aluminum pans.
- When freezing smaller items like berries or blanched veggies, spread pieces out on a sheet pan and transfer to a bad when frozen.